Sweet Corn Season Has Begun
“Simply Delicious, Simply Nutritious” Pennsylvania sweet corn – the summertime favorite – is here on schedule this year. While it is later than last year when the season began early, many growers had corn for the Fourth of July holiday or soon thereafter. Harvest began in Lancaster County the third week of June.
While the season is beginning on schedule, the unusually wet weather this spring prevented growers from planting on a regular schedule. Growers need to plant their sweet corn on a periodic (often weekly) schedule throughout the spring to ensure a continuous harvest throughout the summer. Since the wet weather prevented them from planting as they planned, there may be times when corn is very plentiful and times when it is not as plentiful. However, with the favorable growing weather during the month of June, consumers can expect abundant supplies of Pennsylvania sweet corn at community farmers’ markets, roadside farm markets and supermarkets across the state this summer.
Fresh, local sweet corn is not only the best tasting corn to be had, it is also often available at economical prices at the height of the season in August. Thus in these days of increasing food and fuel costs, it represents a real food dollar bargain with a small carbon footprint besides the great taste.
Growers start planting corn about the middle of March under a clear plastic mulch. The warm moist environment under the clear plastic mulch is ideal for rapid seed germination and seedling development in cool March and April days. Some growers go an extra step and start their corn in the greenhouse and transplant it to the field under clear plastic row covers supported by wire hoops. Either system represents a greater investment for the grower in terms of time, equipment and supplies but enables the grower to hit the early market. Corn planted on bare ground without row covers generally matures two to three weeks later.
Irrigation is essential to a good corn crop in many years. The critical period for adequate moisture for corn is during silking and ear development. Traditionally corn has been irrigated by overhead sprinklers or large irrigation guns that cover a large area at once. Many sweet corn growers are now turning to trickle irrigation which is the most water-efficient method of irrigation available. With this method of irrigation, a plastic tube with tiny emitters is laid down between every other row of corn. Water and fertilizer are pumped into the tubes and trickles out to the roots of the sweet corn crop.
The key to great-tasting sweet corn is freshness. The sugar in sweet corn rapidly begins turning to starch within hours after being harvested. About 40 percent of the sugar can be lost in six hours at room temperature. Refrigeration slows this process, but the sooner corn is eaten after harvesting, the better it will be.
Most growers are growing sugar-enhanced or super sweet varieties that genetically have more sugar in the kernels. Some of these early sugar-enhanced varieties where developed at Penn State University. Because they have more sugar to begin with, they can be stored for longer periods and still have acceptable sweetness. However, standard sweet corn varieties, when purchased freshly harvested, will still have a delicious, traditional corn flavor and sweetness.
According to growers across the state, most Pennsylvanians prefer bicolor corn, traditionally known as Butter and Sugar. However, in south-central and southeastern Pennsylvania, white is the preferred corn. Certain localities and clienteles still like their corn to be yellow, so many growers also grow some yellow varieties.
Sweet corn is the leading vegetable crop in the commonwealth with about 16,000 acres grown annually. About 90 percent of this sweet corn acreage is grown for fresh market sales. As a result, Pennsylvania ranks as the ninth largest fresh-market sweet corn producing state in the nation. About 1,000 acres of the sweet corn acreage are grown to be processed into frozen or canned corn products available year around. Fresh corn will be available from late June into October.
While fresh sweet corn is a delicious ingredient in many recipes, it is most popular served right on the cob, and is so simple to prepare with these tips from Penn State Cooperative Extension. Simply boil husked ears for four to seven minutes in unsalted water – salt may toughen the kernels. If you prefer grilled corn, remove the silk from the ear but leave the husk on. Soak the ears for 10 minutes in cold water and then grill them for 15-20 minutes. To roast, remove the silk and husk from the ears, brush with melted margarine or butter and wrap in foil. Roast the wrapped ears for 15 to 20 minutes on the grill.
Fresh corn-on-the-cob is also easily prepared in the microwave by wrapping two husked ears in a damp paper towel and cooking them for seven minutes on high power, turning the ears once.
Many roadside farm markets offer larger quantities of corn for home freezing. Penn State University offers detailed instructions at http://foodsafety.psu.edu/lets _ preserve.html, This information is also available at any Penn State Cooperative Extension office or by contacting the Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program at 717-694- 3596. Many general cookbooks offer detailed instructions and recipes as well.
The following corn recipes offer other creative methods to enjoy Pennsylvania “Simply Delicious, Simply Nutritious” sweet corn. These recipes were entered in the 2011 Pennsylvania “Simply Delicious” Vegetable Recipe Contest. Additional corn recipes are available at www.paveggies.org. Healthy Fettuccini Alfredo
16 oz. vegetable fettuccini
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic - crushed
2 c. mushrooms - fresh
1 c. carrots - julienne style
2 c. sweet corn – fresh, cut off the cob
1/2 c. yellow zucchini - halved and sliced
2 T. butter substitute
4 T. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper - ground
2 1/2 c. milk - 2% reducedfat
1 c. chicken broth - reduced sodium
1 c. parmesan cheese - reduced fat, divided
1/2 c. Romano cheese - reduced fat
1 T. basil – fresh, finely chopped
Cook fettuccini according to package directions. Drain, rinse and set aside. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for 3 minutes. To same pan, add mushrooms, carrots, sweet corn and zucchini. Sauté for 5 minutes, or until vegetables are tendercrisp. Set vegetable mixture aside. In a large saucepan, heat butter substitute over medium heat until melted. Whisk in flour, salt and pepper. Whisk until smooth. Gradually add milk and chicken broth. Simmer for 2 minutes, until sauce begins to thicken. Whisk 3/4 cup parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup Romano cheese into milk mixture. Cook for 3 minutes, until cheese is completely melted. Remove from heat. Combine cooked pasta, cheese sauce and vegetables. Top with remaining 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and fresh basil.
Submitted by Deb Lyon, Bangor
Spicy Corn Salsa
Serves 12 to 15
3 c. corn – fresh, cooked & cut off the cob
14.5 oz. tomatoes – canned, diced with jalapenos
1/2 c. zesty Italian dressing
1/2 c. onion - diced
1 tsp. garlic - minced
1 tsp. cumin - ground
3/4 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients. Cover and marinate in refrigerator overnight. Serve with corn chips.
Submitted by Bonnie Mortimer, Mount Pleasant
The Three Sisters Succotash (A Tribute to the Native Americans)
Serves 8 to 10
1 T olive oil - divided
2 c. corn - fresh
1/2 c. sweet onion - diced
1 bell pepper – medium, red, diced
1 jalapeno - small, finely diced
1 c. summer squash - green or golden, diced dash cumin
1 tsp. sea salt dash black pepper
2 cloves garlic - minced
1/2 c. chicken stock
2 T. cilantro - fresh
1 1/2 c. lima beans - fresh or frozen
Place a large saute pan on high heat until very hot. Add 1 tsp. of the olive oil plus the corn, onion, and peppers. Saute until vegetables start to brown and caramelize slightly. This process takes approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Add the remaining olive oil, squash, cumin, salt, pepper and garlic. Cook for another 3 minutes on medium heat. Add chicken broth, cilantro and the lima beans. Simmer mixture until all vegetables are tender. approximately 5 minutes.
Submitted by Kathy Rohrbaugh, Shrewsbury
Quick buying tips for Pennsylvania sweet corn
The Pennsylvania Veg etable Marketing and Research Program offers these tips when buying sweet corn:
Look for fresh green husks and ears that are filled all the way to the tip.
Kernels should be tender, full and firm enough to puncture easily under the slightest pressure.
To preserve the corn’s sugar content and flavor, refrigerate immediately after purchase.